The contaminated Rio waterways have been a subject of controversy for months in the build-up to the 2016 Olympics.
Several studies found that the waterways, like Guanabara Bay and Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon that will host Olympic events, have contamination akin to raw sewage, while several others have large build-ups of trash in the water and along the shore.
Now, with the Olympics less than seven months away, an Outside the Lines story by Bonnie D. Ford on the state of Rio makes the waterways sound as disastrous as ever.
Athletes, of course, are worried about competing in the waters, as some have come down with illnesses during training, though Ford notes that there’s no evidence that those illnesses were a direct result of the contamination.
Nonetheless, anecdotes from athletes and citizens about some of the trash found in the waterways are eye-popping.
- Martine Grael, a Brazilian sailor, told Ford she has hauled entire TV sets out of the water during training sessions.
- Dutch windsurfer Dorian van Rijsselberghe posted on a Netherlands-based nonprofit site (translated by OTL), saying in 2013 that they had to “slalom” through garden chairs, a refrigerator, and dead animals.
- U.S. sailor Brad Funk told Ford he frequently had to pull plastic bags off his rudder and centerboard while sailing.
- Ford went on one of the trash-collection boats and watched a 14-year-old boy scoop up a plastic wrapper, juice box, used condom, and “assorted gunk” with a net.
- Ford also describes a trip on a boat to the island of Pombeba, where along the shoreline, there was a collection of trash, ranging from old clothes, a car bumper, a tire, a headless doll, a suitcase, cleaning products, soda bottles, and more.
And, of course, there’s the sewage.
During Ford’s trip through the Marina de Glorio (adjacent to where Olympics sailing events will take place), a biologist she accompanied took pictures of the water, pointing out faecal matter along the way.
Rijsselberghe said there’s raw sewage in the water and that one of their coaches nearly threw up from the smell before entering the harbour.
While some athletes have shrugged off the conditions, the smell seems like a consistent factor few can ignore. Ford describes the smell coming off the water and quotes several other athletes and citizens who also complain of it.
OTL received a copy of a U.S. Olympic Committee statement to athletes that said, “The USOC has ongoing concerns over possible existing viral and bacterial contaminants in the water. … There is currently no way to ‘zero out’ the risk of infection or illness when competition occurs in any water, and especially in Rio waters.”
Athletes are trying to combat the conditions — some will wear plastic overalls, receive vaccinations, use loads of sanitizer, or take fast and frequent showers after races. Some are simply going to compete, then leaving to return home to cleaner conditions and more medical options.
However, U.S. swimmer Haley Anderson explained that it’s not so easy to decide to simply not attend:
“It’s like, ‘OK. You make the Olympic team and then you decide not to swim. You tell me how that goes.'”
It’s becoming increasingly clear, that with so few months remaining, the dirty waterways will remain a problem at the events.
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